Friday, April 30, 2010

Rare unassisted triple plays: Cuban League's turn was more uncommon

An item in the latest USA TODAY Sports Weekly points out that on this day in baseball history (April 29, 2007) Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki completed one of the 15 unassisted triple plays in major league history, an accomplishment more rare than throwing a perfect game.

The Cuban League has it's own history with the uncommon baseball feat, as author Jorge Figueredo reminded me today in an email.

On Dec. 2, 1918, Baldomero "Merito" Acosta completed an unassisted triple play in Cuban League play, but what he did was even more rare than what Tulowitzki and 14 other major leaguers have done.


Acosta did it as an outfielder. All 15 major league player to have accomplished this were infielders -- eight shortstops, five second basemen and two first basemen.

Figueredo's Spanish-language book, Beisbol Cubano: A Un Paso de las Grandes Ligas, 1878-1961, describes the play. I'll translate.

With Acosta playing center field for Habana and Almendares at the plate, Joseito Rodriguez led off the eighth inning with a triple. Francisco "Canilla" Rivas followed with a walk and "Strike" Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

After Habana pitcher Pastor Pareda walked Jose Maria Fernandez to drive in a run, Oscar "Barriguilla" Rodriguez hit a line shot to center. But Acosta made a great running catch for the first out and ran straight to second to step on the bag before Rivas could get back for out No. 2. Fernandez, who had been running from first, tried to get back but Acosta chased him down and tagged him out for the final out of the inning.

Acosta (right with Adolfo Luque) played 12 seasons in the Cuban League for Habana, Almendares and Marianao, and was elected into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955. He managed Marianao to the pennant in 1922-23. He also was a part owner of Marianao and later of the Havana Cubans.

Acosta played five major league seasons with Washington (1913-16) and the Philadelphia Athletics (1918).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Black press: Key role during Jackie Robinson's spring training in Cuba

Thursday marked the 63rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball with every player in baseball wearing Robinson's retired No. 42.
As I've noted before in this blog, that historic event began in Cuba, where the Dodgers held spring training in 1947.
But Robinson, the Dodgers and members of their minor league team, the Montreal Royals, weren't the only ones who played a significant role that spring.
Black sports writers Sam Lacy of The Baltimore Afro-American and Wendell Smith of The Pittsburgh Courier were with Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Roy Partlow, chronicling the events and advocating for baseball to desegregate.
During a 1997 interview, Lacy, who at the time was still writing for the Afro-American, talked about the struggles of that spring: Robinson and the other black players having to be quartered separately from the Dodgers and the Royals' white players, Robinson's stomach problems, a foot injury and having to learn a new position -- first base.
"He didn't like it at all, but [Dodgers president Branch] Rickey convinced him that this was his way of getting up to the majors," Lacy said. "It was just a case where he had enough problems, he had enough things to be concerned about to give him this additional concern of changing positions and possibly doing poorly."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spanish-language Cuban baseball blog relaunches under new name

Looks like t he Cuban baseball blog Baseball Empire has relaunched under a new name.

It's now Desde Mi Palco de Fanatico.

The Spanish-language site includes biography capsules on numerous Cuban players from the pre- and post-Castro era, as well as a lot of historical information on the teams from both eras.

But perhaps the coolest thing on the site by Rogério Manzano are year-by-year images of the uniforms of Cuba's teams, including Almendares, Habana, Cienfuegos and Marianao.

Like the book, Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, Manzano's "database" allows visitors to click through each year to see how those teams' uniforms changed from 1943 to 1961.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ex-Oriole Mike Cuellar played in the final years of the Cuban League

Miguel "Mike" Cuellar, who died Friday at age 72, is best remembered as being a part of the Baltimore Orioles' quartet of 20-game winners in 1971.

But the lefty began his professional career as a 19-year-old during the 1956-57 Cuban League season with Almendares. He pitched for the Scorpions during the final five seasons of the league, compiling a sub-.500 21-28 record despite a 3.09 ERA.

During the 1959-60 season, Cuellar went 5-10 desptie a stellar 2.92 ERA as Almendares won the Cuban League pennant and went on to win the Caribbean Series.

As a minor leaguer, Cuellar (second row, fourth from the left) played with the Havana Sugar Kings from 1957-60, registering ERAs of 2.44, 2.77, 2.80 and 3.53 in those seasons and was with the team when it was forced to move from Havana to Jersey City in the middle of the season after the International League -- in the wake Fidel Castro coming to power in 1959 -- revoked the franchise and gave Cuban owner Bobby Maduro 48 hours to find a city to which to transfer the team.

In the majors, Cuellar used his screwball to become the only Cuban-born pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in 1969 as he went 23-11 with a 2.38 ERA for the Orioles. He won 20 or more games four times, including 1971 when he joined Pat Dobson, Jim Palmer and Dave McNally as the Orioles' four 20-gamer winners that season.

Cuellar was inducted into the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.